The Heisman Trophy that Lamar Jackson earned as a 19-year-old and the 119 touchdowns he produced at Louisville don’t carry any weight at his first NFL training camp.
Just like all the other Baltimore Ravens rookies, Jackson has to prove he can make the transition to the pro game.
And he’s totally fine with it.
“It feels good just being out here with NFL talent,” Jackson said. “It’s not college or high school anymore. You’re a grown man. You have to show up and show out.”
Jackson played well at minicamp in the spring, and the first-round pick continues to impress this summer. He’s not about to unseat 10-year veteran Joe Flacco, who’s assured the starting job, but the fleet-footed newcomer has turned more than a few heads with his ability to escape a collapsing pocket and sprint downfield.
“He likes to run, very fast,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s very exciting, a young talent, and he approaches the game with the kind of requirement that quarterbacks are held to in this league. He could have a promising career.”
At Louisville, Jackson did it all. He threw 69 touchdown passes and ran for 50 scores before opting to toss his name into the draft after completing a junior season in which he was named a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second year in a row.
Known more for his legs than his arm, the 6-foot-2 Jackson was on the brink of dropping from the first round before the Ravens worked a trade with Philadelphia and nabbed him with the 32nd overall pick.
Eager to blunt any notion that Jackson would compete for the starting job, Coach John Harbaugh immediately stressed the job belongs to Flacco. There’s veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III to contend with, too, but instead of considering them rivals, Jackson views them as teachers.
“I’m still learning,” the 21-year-old acknowledged. “Everything they do, I’m trying to mimic.”
Jackson, however, has his own special skills. The Ravens know it would be foolish to keep him on the bench, so they’re trying to find creative ways to work him into the offense. At a recent practice, he threw a pass to Flacco, who lined up as a receiver.
“We’re going to see what everybody’s strengths are,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We’ll try to use all of our players that are eligible, we’ll try to use the whole field, we’ll get it to our best players.”
Jackson has impressed his teammates and the coaching staff with his athleticism and willingness to work.
“I’ll tell you what, Lamar’s done just an outstanding job,” Mornhinweg said. “Everybody in this league has some uncommon tools, and he certainly does. You can see on the practice field. He’s way ahead of the curve now.”
The next step for Jackson — and by far the most significant thus far — is going up against outside competition. Come Thursday night, in the Hall of Fame Game against the Chicago Bears, it will be time to see what he’s got.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I have to show them my talent in the preseason games.”
It might not be pretty. There might even be an interception or two. Not that it matters.
“With a young player, I don’t think you expect perfection,” Harbaugh said, “but he looks pretty good out there to me.”